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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex gets CWATS trail network update, includes plans for multi-use trail on Maidstone

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Essex Council received an annual overview of the County Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) program – a network of on and off-road trail systems that support cycling, pedestrian, and mobility devices for all members of the community – at its regular meeting on March 19.

  The report, Corinne Chiasson, Senior Planner for the Town of Essex, noted was meant to be received for informational purposes only. The document not only provided Council with an overview of the CWATS program, it highlighted past successes and provided a brief summary of current Town of Essex projects. In addition, the opportunity allowed Town staff to outline partnerships and funding models and speak about forecasted objectives for the next five-years.

  “This program provides many economic, environmental, and health benefits to the Town of Essex,” Chiasson said. “Its really is a great team effort across the entire region.”

  The County of Essex introduced the trail network plan – with the “S” in CWATS first standing for “study” in those early days before official adoption – over a decade ago. The seven local municipalities approved the County Wide Active Transportation Master Plan in 2012. It identified planning policies, design standards, and operation guidelines that set the principles for this program.

  Partnerships include ERCA, which owns the greenways, City of Windsor, Windsor-Essex Health Unit, Chatham-Kent, Great Lakes Waterfront Trails, Trans Canada Trail, Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI), and Bike Windsor Essex.

  “The purpose of this network is to promote healthy, active living for all ages, all mobilities, and connect communities, " Chiasson added. “It is a program to improve quality of life, connect urban [and] rural neighborhoods to natural environments, boost agri-tourism, boost economic development, and help connect people with one another.”

  The plan, she added, was designed for the safety of cyclists, pedestrians, persons using mobility devices, and commuting residents.

  A report presented to Essex County Council back in November noted that when adopted, the region-wide CWATS Master Plan was to include 556km of active transportation infrastructure, of which 340km has been constructed. The updated draft Master Plan adds 510km of new proposed routes, increasing the total length of existing and proposed CWATS routes to 1,066km.

  This update included new chapters, such as a year-round maintenance program, best practices and guideline standards, and assurances of equity for all members of the community for mobility, social factors, and updated safety measures.  It is expected the updated Master Plan will be endorsed by County Council in 2024.

  The CWATS Master Plan directs all programs and projects to fall within one of three categories: Core Infrastructure, Paved Shoulder Program, or Municipal Partnership.

  David McBeth, Manager of Capital Works and Asset Management, explained the County and ERCA bear the most cost associated with CWATS. Where there are rural/urban areas, costs are shared with a 60/40 split, with the municipality taking on the larger share. If a trail is in an urban area, it is fully the responsibility of the town.

  Since its adoption, The Town of Essex has completed several projects under the Core Infrastructure program, including a 8.6km stretch of paved shoulders/bike lanes along County Road 50 East that creates a south shore cycling and wineries route, also known as the waterfront trail, she said.

  The CWATS network in Essex, Chiasson said, includes a “balanced layout, with excellent coverage between rural and urban settlement areas.”

  That accounts for 54.6km of active transportation connectivity, she said.

  She thanked Essex Council for approving $25,000 in the 2024 budget towards the Municipal Partnership Program, which in part offers educational opportunities.

  The Town of Essex is currently working with the County of Essex towards rehabilitating County Road 50 West with new paved shoulders, from County Road 41 to the Village of Colchester. In 2023, a two-km stretch of roadway was rehabilitated with paved shoulders. The remaining four-km stretch of County Road 50 will be completed in 2024.

  “Historically, this scenic roadway has been a concern, due to the narrow, gravel shoulders, rate of speed of some drivers, and seasonal-use of large farming equipment,” Chiasson said. Needing a solution to those concerns, in 2021 and 2022, the Town worked with the County to align the CWATS paved shoulder program with the schedule of rehabilitation of County Road 50.

  That partnership helped lead to Administration successfully obtaining the Government of Canada’s Active Transportation Fund in the amount of $2,268,444 in 2022. This project would have originally taken three- years of budgeting commitment to be paid fully, but this grant has allowed all parties to fast tract this project, she said.

  Currently, the Town of Essex has a consultant working on a design feasibility study for the Maidstone Multi-Use Path (MUP). This would link the Cypher Systems Greenway, CASO Rail line Corridor, County Road 8 commercial and industrial district, and would go from Highway 3 to Talbot Street.

  This MUP project will follow along the south-side of Maidstone Avenue from South Talbot Road to Essex District High School, and then flip to the north-side of Maidstone Avenue to Talbot Street North,” McBeth added.

  The design feasibility study is expected to be completed in Spring of March 2024 with construction planned for the 2025-2026 budget years, the Report to Council notes.

  A potential project to be brought forward during 2025 or 2026 Budget deliberations includes a storm sewer along Maidstone Avenue to improve drainage around Thomas and Bell. It is hoped to complete the storm sewer in conjunction with the multi-use trail, McBeth said.

  In addition, another Core Infrastructure program includes the extension of bike lanes along County Road 34 to Talbot Street South. A design feasibility study is planned for 2024, with construction to be determined based on the findings of the study, the Report to Council notes.

  The County and the Town of Essex, McBeth said, combined to invest $7.1M in core CWTAS infrastructure in the first five-years of the program. The five to 10-year phase will likely have another $1.9M. The long-term plan will likely have another $2.4M invested from both parties.

  As part of the five-year plan, Essex Administration wishes to establish CWATS regional hub stations at Colchester Park, McGregor Co-An Park, Essex Heritage Gardens, and the Harrow Greenway Community Entrance through the Municipal Partnership Program. These Hub stations will support CWATS trail users with amenities as they travel throughout the network, the Report adds.

  In September of 2023, ERCA was able to purchase the Windsor-to-Comber segment of the former CASO line, which will be transformed into a natural public greenway trail. The CASO corridor passes directly through Essex Centre, including at the Heritage Gardens Park. ERCA plans to make this a multi-use trail that connects to several other corridors.

  Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy thanked the administration for the report. She asked that at the next CWATS committee meeting if the amount of littering along the greenways can be discussed, and if they can be monitored. She would like to see “no dumping signs” added.

  She also hoped the Essex website could be updated with 2024 projects. She often gets asked about future CWATS plans.  

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